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MARIJUANA: LEGALIZATION, DECRIMINALIZATION, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC COSTS
AN RCMP NATIONAL COMMUNICATION STRATEGY


FUNCTIONAL COMPETENCIES

Acquiring and Analysing lnformation - Knowledge-Specialized, Law, Policy and Procedures [Federal statutes, incl. Regulations]

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Background
  • Objective
  • Target Audiences
  • Activities/Products
  • Key Messages
  • Evaluation
  • Sample Messages
  • Sample Facts
  • ---------------

    BACKGROUND

    Despite a general decline in crime levels in this country, drug-related crime is on the rise. As a result, law enforcement agencies across Canada have significantly stepped up crime-fighting efforts in this area. Widespread misinformation about the effects of addictive drugs like marijuana, however, have glamorized drug abuse*, making enforcement more difficult.

    This misinformation pertaining to drugs is being promoted by special interest groups that are using the media to deliver their messages of harm reduction and decriminalization to a misinformed public. This lack of useful public information about drug use is lending momentum to proponents of another emerging health care issue -- the use of illicit drugs for medicinal purposes.

    The lack of accurate and up-to-date information on marijuana is a good example. The direct physical consequences of using "hard" drugs such as cocaine and heroin are generally well known, at least among tbe adult popuJation (this is primarily the result of considerable attention paid to these drugs in popular media} But the public is less aware of the dangers of using marijuana.

    In "E" Division, the situation is particularly grave. The Cannabis Cafe, which stands as a symbol of public tolerance to open pot smoking, the streets and back alleys of Vancouver's downtown East side, and the cultivation of world-famous "BC bud" have all contributed to a drug-dispassionate West Coast society.

    As a result, public support for the decriminalization of marijuana is growing. And there is no doubt this issue is going to continue to generate increasing amounts of media coverage as the courts and special interest groups grapple with it. The RCMP has a leadership role to play in this regard in ensuring the public gets the straight facts about marijuana. This communication strategy is intended as a long-term public education approach, and must be sustained over an extended period of time. It is meant as a guide, or road map, and can easily be adapted to police operations at any level, or refocused to meet the needs of any community. As with any long-term strategy, it is not static It must be continually revised and reworked according to the changes that take place within society, including public attitude. This approach should be shared with community organizations, professional groups and government agencies so that they may incorporate its principles into their new and ongoing programs.

    OBJECTIVE

  • To support and enhance RCMP drug awareness efforts The goal is to reduce demand for marijuana and contribute to the debate on legalization by:

    Internally
    • educating employees about thc enforcement and community safety implications of marijuana use;
    • providing employees with the appropriate communication tools for public education initiatives;and,
    • encournging employees to emphasize the social, health and safety implications of marijuana use, seizures and grow operations.

    Externally
    • ensuring consistent messages from the various stakeholders;
    • sensitizing the public and the media to the enforcement, social, health and safety implications of marijuana use, drug seizures and grow operntions; and,
    • demonstrating the serious nature of marijuana activities due to its recurrent link to organized crime

    TARGET AUDIENCES

    Internal
    • Drug awareness co-ordinators . Drug enforcement units
    • School liaison officers
    • Community policing coordinators
    • IPOC federal policing employees
    • Media relations officers
    • Detachment and unit commanders
    • All other categories of employees, including public service employees and C/Ms
    • Senior management

    External
    • Media
    • youth market
    • adult family market
    • news
    • senior editors/producers
    • social affairs, health and crime reporters
    • Law enforcement agencies
    • Politicians
    • federal and provincial solicitors and attorneys general
    • federal and provincial ministers of health
    • federal and provincial ministers of justice
    • Bureaucrats
    • Health care professionals
    • social health agencies in the area of drug addiction
    • Business community and groups
    • boards of trade
    • chambers of commerce
    • hydro companies
    • insurance companies
    • Community leaders/groups
    • decision-makers, intellectuals, power-elites, professionals
    • Neighbourhood Watch
    • parent groups
    • Youth, segmented by
    • school level
    • age
    • risk
    • Parents and caregivers, segmented by
    • baby-boomers who grew up in the '60s when marijuana was less potent
    • those with school-age children
    • Other youth-influential adults
    • teachers
    • university professors
    • principals
    • coaches
    • religious leaders
    • youth group leaders
    • mentors
    • athletes
    • Youth agencies and groups
    • Scouts, Venturers and Guides
    • Church organizations

    ACTIVITIES/PRODUCTS

    Internal
    • Educate employees about the enforcement and commumty safety implications of marijuana use through accurate, factual, up-to-date and relevant information by
    • posting information packages and key messages for employees on ManDir; and,
    • preparing ongoing news bullets for Fast Facts and Federal Facts as required
    • Provide employees with the appropriate communication tools for public education initiatives by:
    • preparing a list of external resources that media relations officers, drug awareness coordinators and other employees can use to direct the media to for comments in other areas (ie health care officials and hydro and insurance companies)
    • establishing a best practices database and publishing how media relations officers and other members have been using communication tools to enhance drug awareness in their communities;
    • posting pertinent communication tools and public education documents on the RCMP website;
    • using Fax-on-Demand to post information;
    • preparing materials such as an in-depth presentation package, speaking notes, handouts, Q&As and fact sheets
    • writing sample articles members could take to their community or neighborhood newspapers to increase public awareness about the hazards of marijuana and the social, health and safety impact of grow operations in their neighborhoods;
    • developing a how-to package on establishing partnerships with community groups and business (ie hydro and insurance companies, social health agencies) to involve them in news conferences or public presentations regarding marijuana use and trafficking operations and,
    • ensuring all potential spokespeople (ie drug awareness coordinators) receive a base level of media training through divisional workshops
    • Encourage employees to emphasize the social, health and safety implications of marijuana use, seizures and grow operations by:
    • preparing a force-wide broadcast to announce the new practice of emphasizing the social, health and safety implications of marijuana grow operations and marijuana use; and,
    • publishing an interview with C/Supt Tim Quigley in Pony Express on this new practice, and how it will benefit the force in its drug enforcement operations and drug awareness initiatives

    External
    • Ensure consistent messages and a unified collective voice to advocate for reducing demand for marijuana and to contribute effectively to the debate regarding legalization by
    • mobilizing leaders and spokespeople representing medical professionals, educators, police and community leader, to create partnerships and co-operative ventures to communicate abroad range of information about marijuana to the public, community groups and the media;
    • soliciting participants for a list of external resources that media relations officers, drug awareness coordinators and other employees can use to direct the media to for comments in other areas (ie health care official, ilydro and insurance companies);
    • estabfishing a best practices database and promoting successful partnerships (ie Addictive Drug Information Council, Vancouver Drug Awareness Media Coalition)
    • advocating for closer cooperation between the divisions and the policy centre, and with Health Canada, Department ofJustice, the Office of the Solicitor General, policy centre, and other stakeholders outside government and law enforcement (ie various special interest groups); and,
    • identifying appropriate spokespeople with knowledge and expertise both in drug awareness and media relations
    • Using accurate, factual, up-to-date information, sensitize the public and the media to the enforcement, social, health and safety implications of marijuana use, drug seizures and grow operations by:
    • offering concrete cxamples with which the public can identify, gIving them higher prominence in news releases, at news conferences, during public statements and through interviews with the media
    • using Fax-on-Demand to post information;
    • dispelling the myth that marijuana is a "soft drug"
    • including a marijuana fact sheet with all marijuana-related news releases;
    • conducting editorial boards with outlets that are uninformed or have a pro-legalization slant
    • submitting letters to the editor;
    • Writing articles for opinion and editorial pages;
    • bringing marijuana-related crime prevention issues to the attention of the public (ie identifying grow operations, reasons not to want a grow operation in your community);
    • publicizing, whenever possible, motor vehicle collisions in which marijuana is a contributing factor;
    • promoting a drug-fiee lifestyle through positive messages geared to specific target audiences;
    • publicizing crimes in which marijuana is a contributing factor (ie impaired driving, assault, domestic violence, B&Es); and,
    • publicizing other costs associated with marijuana (reduced property values due to the introduction of the criminal element, the damages caused by an underground economy and the tax implications)
    • Demonstrate the serious nature of marijuana activities due to its frequent link to organized crime, emphasizing the federal solicitor general's priority of targeting organized crime, by
    • releasing of information to the media, wherever possible, that links organized crime (ie Hell's Angels) to marijuana activities;
    • releasing pertinent statistics (ie the rise in the number of hydroponic grow operations in British Columbia as a result of the arrival of the Hell's Angels); and,
    • releasing other pertinent information (ie police seize firearms at every hydroponic grow operation bust that is associated with the Hell's Angels)

    KEY MESSAGES

    • Key messages directed at both internal and external audiences must help the receiver contextualize the threat of marijuana. Community-focused messages should:
    • be simple and relevant;
    • show the public, through specific examples, how marijuana affects them at a personal, day-to-day level;
    • revolve around individual and community safety, security, health and economic impact;
    • promote drug abstinence;
    • be modified for different target audiences (messages specifically geared to the individual audience will be more effective than generic statements);
    • help ensure the community knows the straight facts about drug addiction and the role of law enforcement in addressing the overall solution
    • encourage police/community partnerships;
    • encourage the community to be the eyes and ears of police, and to report unusual activities and,
    • focus on a theme of issue clarification rather than attacking the opposition
    • Messages to target audiences would draw from an overriding theme and core package of facts
    • IdentifY three or four key messages that will take centre stage in any public communication. Other messages can serve to support the main themes
    • The key messages should be repeated often and in a variety of ways to enhance exposure and understanding
    • Personalize the messages so the audience can relate to the impact of marijuana on themselves, the user and the community that surrounds them
    • Use credible spokespeople and role models
    • Maintain a grass-roots political drive -- RCMP members can inform their legislators, city councillors, mayors, etc regarding the dangers of drug legalization and the impact on their constituents and communities
    • Emphasize the federal solicitor general's priority of targeting organized crime, and the link between organized crime and marijuana hydroponic grow operations

    EVALUATION

    • Ongoing monitoring and informal analysis of both the media and intemal publications will:
    • ensure errors in reporting are addressed without delay and allow reporters to be called immediately (this may not lead to a correction or retraction, but will provide an opportunity for further education)
    • quickly identify reporters or news agencies who could benefit from further education;
    • highlight the need for editorials and letters to the editor;
    • determine how the issue ofmarijuana legalization is positioned in the eyes of the media and the public;
    • identify situations in which ongoing errors require the issuing of a news release to correct the inaccuracies; and,
    • identify opportunities to get key messages out
    • Occasional formal media analyses will help gauge how effective the strategy is
    • Regular surveys will measure the levels of knowledge amongst target groups (Angus Reid, for example)
    • Monitoring the number of requests through Fax-on-Demand will help determine the level of demand for information
    • Including an evaluation card or questionnaire with the information packages and encouraging feedback will belp evaluate the quality of the materials and the level of understanding

    SAMPLE MESSAGES

    Internal
  • The new practice of emphasizing social, health and safety implications is essential in eliminating the public perception that marijuana is a 'harmless drug'

  • Internal and external (ongoing)
    • Marijuana is a drug that profits criminals
    • In BC" the majority of marijuana grow operations are controlled by organized crime
    • What is needed is an effective balance of prevention, education, treatment, demand reduction and enforcement programs
    • Prevention, treatment and having all the affected agencies working together in partnership is the key
    • People may consider marijuana to be a "soft drug," but this is the stuff that hits our schools
    • Legalization/decriminalization and harm reduction theories, although seductive at first are completely inconsistent with the RCMP's vIsIon for a drug-free society.
    • The solution to the problem is not to surrender to seductive theories but to put in place a multi-faceted, inter-disciplinary approach involving commitment from law enforcement, educators, the medical profession, government, civic leaders and the community-at-Iarge. If we work together aggressively, we can lower addiction rates through a balance of prevention, treatment, education, drug awareness and strategic enfoccement. The RCMP has a leadership role to play here
    • In our day-to-day work as police officers, we have made several observations on the differences between alcobol and drug use and how they affect behaviour and the commission of crime. They are...
    • Marijuana as a gateway drug

    Following an operation
    • We want to empbasize the degree to which these types of enforcement actions hurt (or) destabilize the establisbed drug trafficking routes (or) organized crime (or) criminals who prey upon the residents of this community. In this particular case, we believe we have had some (or) significant (or) sweeping success because...
    • We have assessed the degree to which our efforts in this regard will reduce the health and safety risks to this area (or) tbis neighbourbood (or) this community (or) our youth (or) our society In this case, we feel we have (or) we will...

    SAMPLE FACTS

    • Marijuana is currently the most widely abused street drug in North America
    • A single hydroponic marijuana plant yields between three and seven joints a day -- enough to satisfy the needs of a chronic smoker
    • Most young people who use illegal drugs start with marijuana, hence its gateway status. As early users of marijuana move on to other drugs, marijuana is considered an indirect cause of increased use rates for other drugs
    • BC bud is trading pound-for-pound in the US for cocaine
    • It is falsely assumed that with legalization, drug-related crime would cease. If legalization were to occur, those who used to be in the drug-trafficking business would more-than-likely look elsewhere for a criminal source of income
    • THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can stay in a user's system for up to two months
    • Like irresponsible and/or excessive use of alcohol, marijuana's effects extend past the individual user, and may cause harm to others. For example, studies are showing that marijuana use has a direct impact on motor vehicle collisions and death. In a recent study, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba found that 66 per cent of teenage drug users, most using marijuana, smoke up in their cars
    • Marijuana use among youths is high. The most recent national study on drug use (1994) showed that 24 per cent of Canadian youth 15 to 19 years of age used marijuana during the previous year
    • The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates the cost of illicit drugs to Canadians was $137 billion in 1992. That is compared to alcohol at $75 billion and tobacco at $96 billion. Law enforcement costs for alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs in 1992 are estimated at $18 billion, compared to $4 billion for direct health care costs
    • The RCMP is so concerned about marijuana-impaired drivers that the force has recently trained 40 drug-recognition officers in BC These traffic officers now administer a series of drug tests to impaired drivers to determine whether they have been smoking marijuana. B.C., where statistics show marijuana consumption is the highest in the country, is the first province to implement this strategy, which the RCMP hope to adopt in other provinces


    GRC-RCMP
    ecdp1225.doc
    May 27, 1999



    * Drug abuse: Any use of illegal drugs, or the inappropriate use of legal drugs/substances - (RCMP definition)



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Last Modified:Tuesday, 21-Jan-2003 15:22:01 PST 7185